There is the common belief that you should never do business with friends or family. Someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt and it most always ends very badly. Make no mistake about it, music is a business. It takes a lot of planning, hard work and strategy to make the wheels turn.
Knowing the repercussions of working with family, musicians tend to still venture down this road and somehow this is the only avenue it tends to work; at least for a while.
I’ve grown so accustomed to the names Sean and Kevin Sullivan being associated with San Francisco demi-gods-of-folk Rin Tin Tiger, that the moment I heard of Field Medic, my immediate reaction was one of shock and disbelief.
But fear not dear friends, I don’t think this is the end of anything, simply a branch off a magnificently grand musical tree.
Field Medic is the solo project for singer/songwriter/redheaded poet Kevin Sullivan. His first release, Crushed Pennies lingers on the folky persona we’ve come to love from his previous work, but sings to a darker place. The whim and rolling fun doesn’t peak through the curtain of simplicity in Crushed Pennies, but it is far from the kind of EP that will drag you down.
The step into a solo project solidifies Sullivan’s artistic output, in both writing and style, as nothing short of genius. It is hard to ignore the fact that he, almost effortlessly, follows suit with the Guthries, Prines and old school McCauleys of the world. His songs are the fabric that Americana is made of. It is emotionally charged while being front-porch-rocking-chair all at once. I suppose it is like stepping into a Zach Braff movie. It moves you by playing to the empty spaces, giving you time to reflect on each and every part. It weighs heavily on the pensive but intellectually poetic writing, where even reaching into lyrics like “butterfly my veins” seems to just make sense. To top it off, Field Medic tosses in an analog recording quality to seal the deal.
While Crushed Pennies comes across as six tracks of pure folk bliss, I have to admit I expected this. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I did. If Sullivan came out and produced an electronic house mix, it would be a different story; probably one ending with me driving to San Francisco, slapping him silly and being detained by the authorities. But there is something in the Sullivan blood that just cannot make bad music. To which I will say that I hope this helps Kevin grow, possibly do another in the future, but definitely does not spell the beginning of the end for Rin Tin Tiger. You see, though fantastic, Field Medic is a whole different animal. You’ll know it as soon as you hear it.
Ah, the solo project, the venture that begs to be looked at with singular focus, but irony is a cruel mistress and will not allow it. When an artist steps away from the group to do their own thing, even for a moment, that band is used as the yardstick for which a solo project is measured (somewhere Roger Waters is nodding in approval – he’s a fan). But as Kevin Sullivan says: everyone likes the prospect of something new.
New is all and good, but I also like the prospect of a good story. If I look at the story of the music, Rin Tin Tiger released a sweet and “aw shucks” debut in 2011, then went full throttle with Toxic Pocketbook last year. Now, since pace is the trick, Kevin Sullivan took a breath and released the beautifully simple Crushed Pennies under the moniker, Field Medic. It is simple from the standpoint that each of the 6 tracks are fingerpicking and poetry with a sprinkling of harmonica here and a goosebump inducing harmony there.
As a product, the album fits the narrative well. Sullivan’s previous ventures were never known for their complexity, but he is still able to convey so much in even less layers. Everything feels raw and unpolished, so all of the focus is in the music and the message, which is sorrowful and incredibly human. So, not exactly a sit on the porch sipping lemonade folk album, but ultimately a soundtrack for reflection.
Want to pause and think about life for a moment? Put on Crushed Pennies and dive into the story. Listen to it by itself, with Sullivan’s other work, alone, or with a friend. But on June 25th, you should head over to Field Medic’s bandcamp page and listen to something new, it’s what you crave.